The question of whether severed or laid-off workers who are struggling as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, should have some access to money they have accumulated in pensions funds is currently under serious debate.
Several thousand employees, particularly those whose livelihoods are connected to the hotel and tourism sector, are fighting for access to large sums of money they have placed in funds that are supposed to be released when they reach retirement.
However, Roseanne Myers, general manager of Atlantis Submarines Barbados and recently appointed chairman of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI), is among those engaged in a lobby to gain access to some of the money, she and many of her staffers have been contributing for decades.
She told COVID Weekly: “We decided that if and when the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) unemployment benefits run out . . . many of us have funds in the pension plan which we were paying into from the time we joined Atlantis until now.
“What is the point of having money in a pension fund, and you don’t know where your next salary is coming from?”
“We immediately set about trying to get the voluntary and accumulated contributions. It is a fight that we are halfway through. The first battle is won with respect to the voluntary contributions, but the second part is to be able to pull down on all the accumulated funds, an amount that that does not completely collapse up the plan.”
The senior tourism official described the situation as “frustrating” due to the inflexibility of legislation governing pension plans in Barbados. When faced with the enormity of financial problems that many former employees are confronting, she insisted there should be some flexibility in the plans that are operated generally by insurance companies.
“I have argued that we are in a pandemic. What is the point of me talking about keeping my money in a pension fund and I can’t touch it, when I don’t know after my unemployment runs out where I am going to get money from?” she disclosed.
Moreover, she said the possibility of losing one’s home or land are scenarios in the current environment, as some people have not benefited from their full incomes for more than a year.
Myers added: “There is an ongoing discussion about it now, but it is a fight that will continue. I will not give up because I think that we need to review some of the things that people can have access to in order to help themselves. Due to the way the legislation is written, you can’t touch the money that you have put into a fund. It is the craziest thing.
“People have obligations. They are coming to the point where the help the bank is giving is running out, and you have money sitting down in a pension fund. We are in a pandemic; people don’t have money to purchase food, but you have substantial amounts of money in a fund.”
The executive disclosed that discussions had been held with the Financial Services Commission (FSC) about the matter.
“We understand it is not a situation with the insurance company but with the current legislation. Unfortunately, this requires agitators, and I will continue to agitate.”
This article appears in the April 26 edition of COVID Weekly. Read the full publication here.